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Epilepsy

General | March 12, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

epilepsy, seizures

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a common neurological condition in which a person tends to have recurring seizures. During a seizure there is a sudden disruption to normal brain activity, which causes unusual movements, odd feelings, changed behaviour or impaired consciousness. Complementary therapies can help control symptoms of epilepsy—especially when traditional medicines are ineffective or cause too many adverse reactions.

What happens during a seizure?

What happens during a seizure?The brain is made up of millions of nerve cells called neurons which carry messages between the brain and the body. These cells generate electrical impulses to carry these messages to produce thoughts, feelings, movement and control body functions. A seizure happens when the normal alternating pattern of these impulses is disrupted, causing the impulses to rapidly fire all at once.

Depending on the type of seizure, this can cause changes in:

  • sensation and feeling
  • awareness and consciousness
  • behaviour
  • movement

Most seizures last for under 2 minutes. What is experienced, and the intensity of these symptoms can vary greatly—as some are severe and some very subtle.

Not all seizures are considered epilepsy. Epilepsy is a disease of the brain characterised by the tendency to have recurrent seizures.

Types of seizures

There are many different types of seizures that fall into two main categories. If the onset hasn’t been identified they will then be classed as unknown onset.

Focal onset seizure

This type of seizure was formally known as a partial seizure because only part of the brain is involved. Signs and symptoms vary from person to person depending on what part of the brain the seizure occurs in.

The two types of focal epileptic seizures are:

Aura—the person remains completely conscious but will experience unusual sensations or movements such as pins and needles, an unpleasant smell, or confusing thoughts or experiences.

Focal dyscognitive seizures—this type of seizure only affects one part of the brain. The person appears in a trance-like state and may do strange or repetitive actions such as uttering strange sounds or fiddling with their clothes.

Generalized epileptic seizures

There are several types of generalised seizures including:

  • Tonic-clonic seizure – the muscles suddenly stiffen and rhythmic jerking follows. They are often confused afterwards.
  • Absence seizure – mainly occurring in children, the person will ‘go blank’ for a brief time, during which they may stare, and the eyelids may flicker. These seizures often go unnoticed by other people.
  • Tonic – the body stiffens and the person may fall, sometimes causing injury. Recovery is usually quick.
  • Atonic – a sudden loss of muscle tone causes the person to fall, sometimes causing injury. Recovery is usually rapid.
  • Myoclonic – brief, shock-like jerks of a muscle or a group of muscles, usually involving the upper body.

What causes epilepsy?

Known causes of epilepsy include:

  • What causes epilepsy?Head trauma
  • Stroke
  • Brain tumour
  • Infectious diseases such as AIDS, meningitis and encephalitis
  • Genetic influence
  • Developmental disorders

In many cases the cause of epilepsy is not always known. Certain triggers can include lack of sleep and stress.

Natural therapy options

Ketogenic diet

A diet high in healthy fats, with adequate protein and low in carbohydrates is referred to as a ketogenic diet. Research has found this way of eating can reduce seizures in children and adults. When following a ketogenic diet, the body breaks down fats and uses ketones for energy instead of carbohydrates. This state is known as ketosis and causes changes in body chemistry that may help to control seizures. Adhering to this kind of diet can be very challenging and seeking advice from a health professional is a must.
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Medical cannabis

Medicinal cannabis may be approved if you have already tried the conventional treatments available and these have been ineffective, or if the effects of the conventional treatment proves to be intolerable for you.

Medical cannabisYour doctor will need to provide scientific evidence that the proposed type of medicinal cannabis is effective for your condition or symptoms.

CBD is the non-psychoactive component of cannabis which has anti-convulsant, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, neuroprotective and immunoregulatory effects. Numerous studies have found benefit for epileptics, but more research needs to be done.
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Vagus nerve stimulation

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve that connects the brain to the body. It contains motor and sensory fibres that send signals through the body. During vagus nerve stimulation therapy, a small nerve stimulator is placed on the person’s chest. The stimulator connects to the nerve and controls electrical energy flowing to and from the brain. When a patient with epilepsy experiences signs and symptoms that a seizure may be beginning they can activate the stimulator with a magnet that can help prevent the seizure. Unfortunately, this type of therapy doesn’t work for every patient, but it can still help reduce seizures on average by about 50 percent.

Avoiding triggers

Avoiding triggersThere are many different triggers which can vary for each person. It is important to understand what can bring on seizures for you and aim to reduce their effects. For example, if you find stress is a worsening factor then find ways to reduce this in your life by implementing exercise and relaxation techniques. Supplements which may assist include passionflower, magnolia or magnesium.

Make sure you are aiming for 7-9 hours sleep each night as sleep deprivation is a well-known trigger.
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Magnesium

Magnesium is a potential modulator of seizure activity because of its ability to antagonize excitation. Some studies have shown that people with epilepsy have lower magnesium levels than people without epilepsy. There are case reports of seizures being controlled with magnesium, but more research needs to be done in this area to confirm these findings.

Things to remember

  • Epilepsy is a disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed— leading to recurrent seizures
  • There are many different types of seizures with varied signs and symptoms
  • Medications may be ineffective or have too many unwanted side-effects
  • Other alternatives in epilepsy treatment include a ketogenic diet, medical cannabis or supplements to manage stress

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References

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/epilepsy

https://www.epilepsy.org.au

https://www.tga.gov.au/publication/guidance-use-medicinal-cannabis-treatment-epilepsy-paediatric-and-young-adult-patients-australia

Nei M, et al. Ketogenic diet in adolescents and adults with epilepsy. Seizure. 2014 Jun;23(6):439-42

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24675110

O'Connell BK, et al. Cannabinoids in treatment-resistant epilepsy: A review. Epilepsy Behav. 2017 May;70(Pt B):341-348

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28188044

Cukiert A. Vagus Nerve Stimulation for Epilepsy: An Evidence-Based Approach. Prog Neurol Surg. 2015;29:39-52

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26393531

Yuen AWSander JW. Can magnesium supplementation reduce seizures in people with epilepsy? A hypothesis. Epilepsy Res. 2012 Jun;100(1-2):152-6

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22406257

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